Posted: 2:45 p.m. Monday, Sept. 9, 2013
By Andy Hutchins
Florida lost to Miami, 21-16, on Saturday. You can relive the pain through our Game Thread, if you are a masochist. The Rapid Recap is our comprehensive first look before a second full viewing of each Gators game. It was hard to write this week, which is part of why it was delayed.
Miami's ability to put Florida in a hole early proved to be incredibly valuable: The Gators were too busy shooting themselves in the foot to dig out against the Hurricanes in Sun Life Stadium, and fell to 1-1 for the first time since 2004.
After losing the coin toss, Florida had to receive the opening kickoff, never what a defense-first team wants. The Gators moved the ball into Miami territory, getting all the way down to the 'Canes' 28, but a personal foul penalty pushed them back, and a superb hat-on-ball hit from Denzel Perryman forced a fumble near midfield. Miami scored on the subsequent drive, aided by another personal foul.
From there, Florida was playing catch-up, and made too many mistakes in trying to do too much. The Gators would never lead on the day, and never tied Miami, despite an opportunity to do so in the first quarter and a Herculean day from the Florida defense.
Will Muschamp's first words to reporters after the game: "We gave them way too much momentum early in the game, defensively." No, really:
And, truth be told, at the end of the first quarter, with Florida down 14-6 and on the receiving end of two pretty touchdown passes from Stephen Morris, I feared the Gators were getting into a shootout they didn't have the ammunition to win. I was wrong — sort of — because Florida's defense recovered from the early struggles to shut down an offense I suspect will be very good all year.
After Miami scored on two of its first three drives, with Morris placing perfect passes to Herb Waters and Phillip Dorsett for the touchdowns, Florida limited the 'Canes to 36 yards on their subsequent 11 drives. One of those drives was a kneel-down to end the first half, though, so this is the real stat from the second quarter on: Florida limited Miami to 38 yards on 10 drives after the first quarter on Saturday. And 50 of the yards came on one drive that ended in a punt.
Yes, the other nine drives combined to lose 12 yards.
Florida's defense was ferocious and almost flawless after Dorsett's touchdown came on a blown coverage by multiple defensive backs, with a missed tackle by Loucheiz Purifoy allowing the only "explosive" play in the final three quarters. Dominique Easley was disruptive, the Gators' front seven shut down Duke Johnson, Florida's pressure helped force many bad passes from Morris (he threw a few of his own volition), and Florida's secondary blanketed the intermediate area of the field and beyond, eliminating the best part of Miami's passing game after its damage was done.
Muschamp is right about that defense giving Miami too much early in the game — and if Florida's defense had held Miami to a field goal from the goal line in the fourth quarter, Florida's offense could've
driven had a chance to drive for a game-tying touchdown — but I suspect that's got more to do with hindsight, frustration, and covering for an offense that blew more chances than Florida's defense allowed. The major early errors by the Gators were atoned for and then some as they clamped down on the 'Canes from the second quarter on.
Easley was as terrifying as I have ever seen a defensive lineman be without recording a sack on Saturday, drawing multiple holding penalties and generally gumming up the Miami defensive line on both running and passing downs. Easley's quickness off the ball and strength in his stance make him a matchup problem for interior players, and his agility makes him a nightmare for tackles. And he's seen two of the better matchups he'll be presented with this year, in Toledo's future NFL center Zach Kerin and Miami's excellent line, and won all day in both games.
I called Easley an "insane murderbear" last year, and that was probably over the top for him: He's not insane, just an excellent football player with as many natural quirks as a CBS sitcom lead has artificial ones, a football player by destiny more than by choice. But if he's not your favorite player on this Florida team, reconsider your position on him. The F in the subhead is for fun, too.
Florida's secondary had a very good day. I'm pretty sure Marcus Roberson was never even targeted, and the one major mistake was something that was bound to happen on a team starting two new safeties at some point. But, for the second straight week, the most important and spectacular play from a talented, deep, and experienced unit came from a true freshman who showed up in fall camp: Vernon Hargreaves III.
Hargreaves played center field in the fourth quarter and snagged an errant Morris pass, then went off to the races. If he wore slightly smaller shoes, he might have been able to score and give Florida the lead on that interception return, instead of taking it into Miami territory, as he stepped out of bounds just before cutting back to far more green grass. Outside of Easley, VH3 looks like Florida's most reliable defensive playmaker
You know what the M.F. is for. And you know what the No. 1 jersey he wore on Saturday, one donned by Keiwan Ratliff and Reggie Nelson and Janoris Jenkins before him, stands for. If Florida wants to give fans a bit of pablum after this dispiriting loss, a feature on Hargreaves, and how he came to switch from No. 16 to No. 1, would be a nice way to do it.
Solomon Patton had six catches for 118 yards. Quinton Dunbar had seven catches for 98 yards. Trey Burton had six catches for 64 yards. Even though those three got 19 of the 22 Florida completions on the day, it's impossible not to be heartened by what Florida's receivers did against Miami.
Those gaudy totals were largely due to their own efforts, too. Patton's adjustment on a slightly underthrown deep ball was a masterful example of the sort of thing that Florida receivers have struggled with for years; Dunbar made a few very nice catches, including a leaping grab of a throw on Florida's second touchdown drive that kept embers of hope burning; Burton was, once again, repeatedly open over the middle. If Dunbar, Patton, and Burton lack the talent of some of their peers and some players projected to be future stars, so be it: They were still very good on Saturday, far more than good enough for Florida to win this game.
I've been managing Alligator Army since 2011. This is one of the first times in the last three seasons that I've been confident in Florida's receivers. While it's tempting to forget that, given the result of this game, I won't.
Florida gave up a big play to Miami in the first quarter, on a 52-yard touchdown pass to Phillip Dorsett over the top of the Gators' defense. The Gators didn't give up another one like that, nor even a good shot at one, that I saw. So: Miami exploited a weak link, and then Florida shored it up. This is what good football teams do.
I wrote this bit in last week's Rapid Recap:
The grades on safeties Marcus Maye and Cody Riggs are incomplete at this point, but Riggs was excellent in run support and Maye seemed very comfortable on the field as a redshirt freshman. It's a scary thought, but Florida may have already positioned its defense as a unit that reloads instead of rebuilding, just three years into Will Muschamp's tenure. A much bigger test comes next week at Miami.
Despite Dorsett's touchdown, I feel pretty good about my read on this defense as a reloading, not rebuilding, unit. Muschamp's mark on Florida is distinctive and valuable on that side of the ball.
Hot damn, was that good. Florida pretty clearly had that look scouted, and Purifoy executed the block perfectly. He's not as up to speed on defense as I thought he would be after his suspension, and we still haven't seen him on offense, but if Purifoy can change games even as a situational player, he's tremendously valuable.
I've been to four Florida road games now (at Texas A&M; and Florida State in 2012, at Rupp Arena for Florida basketball in 2013, and Saturday), and I've enjoyed the anthropological aspect of being a fan on someone else's turf in all four cases. A&M; fans are intense once inside Kyle Field; FSU fans were resigned to rooting for FSU; Kentucky fans can go from distraught to ecstatic in a heartbeat. Miami fans skew younger, and most seemed like the fans of an upstart program punching up on Saturday, celebrating every big play like it was a surprise more than a presumption. (Florida fans are, uh, not like this.)
But the best thing about that was the music in Sun Life Stadium that matched those fans almost perfectly during stoppages. It was an EDM- and rap-heavy soundtrack, and produced great moments: The Skrillex remix of Avicii's "Levels" is massive in general, and much more so when booming after a touchdown, with a balloon being batted around; the "N---as in Paris" instrumental getting played to a crowd totally ready to sing it; a mutated version of "Seven Nation Army" prompting a loud fan rendition of it that felt more honest to the crowd chant's roots in European soccer. About the only missteps in the non-cued music were one brief bit of Pitbull, 30 seconds of the execrable "Summertime Sadness," and Rick Ross's "Hold Me Back" getting played ... after a Florida first down.
Florida rushed for 122 yards on 44 carries, and this was seen by some as an abject failure. It was 122 yards! Florida wasn't playing an FCS team, but a motivated and talented Miami team that can call inexperience its greatest weakness! Matt Jones was returning from a viral infection that clearly, to my eyes, made him a different and more tentative player than the one Florida had late last season and in the offseason!
But some of those positives are also negatives. Jones wasn't the guy Florida needs him to be, and Mack Brown wasn't particularly good, either. The offensive line that did very well against Toledo had a harder time getting big holes to open against a bigger, better Miami defense, and sabotaged Jones's best run of the day with a bad penalty. Jones lost a fumble on a perfect hit from Perryman. Kelvin Taylor, who could theoretically have provided a spark, didn't play. Valdez Showers got 12 yards, not more, on a well-designed play. There was no Purifoy, and no Patton, but the bizarre fealty to Trey Burton as a wildcat runner lost Florida four yards on first and goal.
I think Florida's running game is still likely to be very good to excellent all year. But it was no better than a C+ on Saturday, and even a B- performance might have won the game. That's disappointing.
You don't know what you got 'til it's gone, and Florida losing this game in this way left me and, I suspect, hundreds of thousands of other Gators fans with a bit of l'esprit de l'escalier in regards to this rivalry. The game was painful to watch as a Florida fan, but exciting and tense as a football fan, with Miami doing just enough to parry a Florida offense fighting with a broken rapier, and even though there's no good place on Earth to stage a game between these two teams that won't leave at least 40 percent of the crowd cheering for the Gators, the neutral-site feel of this game was fun.
Miami won, and so Miami fans get to add "We won the last one!" to "Five championships! How many do YOU have?" and "We lead the all-time series!" on their surprisingly short list of talking points when sparring with Florida fans. (Florida football's checkered arrest record came up frequently on Saturday, but a) that will fade with time and b) it has been misinterpreted from jump street, so why shouldn't it be fodder for rivalry taunts? I was really more surprised that Miami fans weren't mentioning the all-time series lead at all.) Florida fans have to chew on the knowledge that Florida appeared to be a significantly superior team on Saturday, despite not being able to get out of its own way.
And that will, I think, change the fan calculus for continuing the series, at least among Gators. We don't like being shown up, and like not having the last word even less, so we'll now rationalize finding a way to get Miami back on the schedule in lighter years, or looking into a complex plan for a neutral-site series. It's still not going to happen, not as long as the powers that be at Florida don't need Miami, and that's probably not going to be for quite some time, given Florida's great positioning in the SEC constellation.
But Florida vs. Miami is going to be a popular bowl projection with Florida fans for years and years to come, so if you're reading this, people who will eventually be responsible for making bowl projections that have to exist for SEO purposes, that tip's free.
In the third quarter, I think, Driskel rolled out right as Ahmad Fulwood came wide open deep on the weak side of the defense. Driskel ended up throwing short, and completing a pass, and would have needed to make an excellent throw across his body on the run to Fulwood to make that play, but it looked like a missed opportunity to the fans around me, which I responded to by stressing how difficult and risky that throw was.
In the fourth quarter, on Florida's successful desperation drive, Driskel made almost exactly that throw to Dunbar for a 32-yard gain. I turned to the people next to me and said, "Oh, he can make that one?"
And that, even more than my feelings on Driskel's two bad interceptions and inexplicably plays leading to sacks on Florida's two other desperation drives, summed up how I feel about Jeff Driskel right now: He is an incredible talent, still, with a penchant for doing the most frustrating thing possible.
Driskel completed 22 of his 33 passes for 291 yards on Saturday, and ran for 40 yards on seven carries before sacks. That sounds good, even without including his passing and rushing touchdowns, but it doesn't nearly convey the enormity of his mistakes: Driskel's two sacks both came at the worst possible time, and one came with a fumble that led to the game-sealing (technically, game-winning) touchdown; he threw interceptions on third downs from Miami's 11 and its 17 that probably cost Florida six points in a game decided by five. Driskel either didn't see or didn't target several receivers running deep on plays that could have been huge, should probably have deferred to his instincts and gone through with a pass he faked to Dunbar on another read option keeper, missed on a couple of short passes to Demarcus Robinson that would probably have moved the sticks, and missed a sure touchdown pass to Dunbar one play before his first interception.
And those interceptions were both colossally bad for the Gators and stupefyingly dumb plays by Driskel. The first was a desperate attempt to make a bullet throw into a hornets' nest that even Brett Favre's arm would struggle to physically perform, and the second was a throw to no one, possibly predicated on a route Burton said he ran wrong, that had no chance of producing a positive play. Driskel's conservatism as a passer last year frustrated many who want a wide-open Florida offense to no end, but his lack of the discretion that proved to be the better part of valor time and again last year doomed Florida on this Saturday, much like it did against Georgia in 2012. (Driskel's first interception was eerily similar to his pick at the end of the first half against Georgia — even though Florida actually matched that turnover even more perfectly later in the first half.)
I don't know what I would prescribe for Driskel going forward, as I still haven't watched the tape of either of Florida's 2013 games, and I'm not a coach. But my initial feel is that Driskel is trying too hard to be what he and others think he needs to be, rather than what he is at his best, and that relaxing the insistence on game management and/or loosening the reins would be a prudent course of action. Driskel and Florida have two weeks to decide their own.
Easley's tremendous day had one big flaw: A 15-yard penalty for roughing Morris on Miami's first drive replaced a third and 10 that would probably have been denied with a first and goal that gave Miami three shots at the end zone. That penalty was effectively worth four points.
Impressively, most of Florida's nine other penalties, which cost just 55 yards combined, were nearly as consequential. A false start from Trey Burton turned third and five into third and 10 on the Gators' — and after Florida converted the third and 10, Clay Burton's 15-yard penalty moved Florida back out of field goal range, and behind where its previous set of downs had started. That penalty also incidentally gave Miami far better field position following Jones's fumble than it would have otherwise had. (Had Florida scored a touchdown on its first drive without another penalty, it would have traveled 96 yards to do so.)
Tyler Moore had a particularly bad day. Driskel's first pick? Preceded by a false start by Moore that forced a screen to Trey Burton — who fumbled while trying to do too much, as is his wont. A second and three at its own 43? Nah, that'll be a second and 13 after a hold by Moore. Jones's finest run of the day? Wiped out by a Moore hold.
Even the final moments weren't free of painful Florida penalties. Dante Fowler, Jr., whose goal in coverage should probably just be avoiding pass interference penalties, gave Miami a new set of downs with one on a second-down incompletion late in the fourth quarter. And, of course, Florida finally perished on a communal false start that prompted a runoff that drained the clock.
I tend to think Florida's well-documented penalty woes aren't actually as damaging as those who hate them with all of their heart and soul would like to believe. On Saturday, though, they definitely were.
I don't think Florida lost because of the refs, though I do think the officiating slightly favored Miami. But I do think the refs missed several calls on both sides, waited a little too long to break up the early chippiness, inappropriately failed to eject Luther Robinson for a stupid and dangerous late hit on a downed Driskel, and completely botched whatever the situation that resulted in a replayed down actually was, either in failing to assess a penalty or failing to properly explain why a penalty shouldn't have been assessed. And given that this was the ACC's biggest game this week (sorry, Oregon vs. Virginia), I have to think it drew the ACC's best crew.
If that's the conference's best bunch, I finally fully get why ACC fans complain so bitterly about their officiating.
I was better than I expected with this week's predictions, but I was also sanguine for much of Saturday, and confident about the Gators' chances in writing and in my conversations with my traveling companions and fans at the game.
But I let myself be confident after I was struck repeatedly by some serious déjà vu. The sky was overcast, and ominous, on the way — just like it was for Florida-Georgia last year. It was cloudy, but never appeared likely to rain, while walking around before the game — just like it was for Florida-Georgia. It was not particularly bright up where my seats were, but being in the nosebleeds intensified the weather (hot as hell in Miami, and rather windy in Jacksonville) — just like it did for Florida-Georgia. And as the game unfolded, with Florida's defense getting put in bad situations and conceding points early, then rebounding for much of the game before one final breakdown, and Florida's offense doing its damnedest to remove its metaphorical toes from its metaphorical foot with a metaphorical shotgun, it turned into very good facsimile of Georgia 17, Florida 9.
I have no proof of this beyond these words, of course, but some part of me was really worried about the game from the moment I stepped out and saw rain on Saturday morning. I should listen to that part of me more often, I think.
There were many Florida fans who departed Sun Life Stadium after Driskel's fumble, and many more who streamed out of the stands after Duke Johnson scored on a two-yard touchdown run, putting Miami up for good. But Florida responded with a quick touchdown drive and a stop, and was theoretically just an onside kick or another stop from a chance at another desperation drive — and it did get a stop.
I don't know who those fans who needed or wanted to leave were, and I can't know why they did, but I'm happy I'll never be one of them.
I was trying to be gracious after the game on Twitter and in my thoughts, as I usually try to be throughout my life. And I really do think Miami deserved to win this game, still, because it made very few mistakes and capitalized on Florida's mistakes repeatedly.
But Florida gave away a game it should have won, and Miami deserved to win mostly because five Gators turnovers made sure Florida deserved nothing of the sort.
Of the turnovers, I think Florida was more responsible than Miami for at least three of them, all of which can be put on Driskel's shoulders. (Tyriq McCord's strip of Driskel was probably close to 50-50, but Driskel's now fumbled three times this year on plays that should have been executed more quickly or surrendered so as to avoid fumbles.) Trey Burton's fumble is consistent with his past fumbles when trying to do too much, but also seems close to 50-50, given what seemed like the good gang tackle and hand placement on that play. Matt Jones's fumble was all Miami, the sort of unlucky bounce that happens every so often.
Florida spent 2012 feasting on other teams' giveaways and forcing a few takeaways of its own, but, through two games, the 2013 Gators have donated four more than they've taken in 2012, and have six turnovers, a total they didn't reach until Driskel's second fumble against Georgia in 2012. I hate using the words inexcusable and unacceptable to talk about mistakes in games, because they sound more like "unforgivable" to me when talking about sports, but I will say this: If Florida wants to win 10 games this year, it cannot do so without significantly cleaning up its turnover problem.
Miami honored sprinter Bassim El-Sabawi, who earned All-ACC Academic Team for 2013, in the second half. The Florida fan behind me, whose name I failed to get, proceeded to call him a "fucking terrorist" and an "Al-Qaida motherfucker," and yelled "Send him back to Afghanistan!" I failed to get his name, or say anything to him, because I was mad enough about it and he was drunk enough that trying to do either might have resulted in a fight — and, candidly, because I'm not going to fight on that line when doing so would jeopardize my ability to keep watching Florida — but I feel confident in saying that that Florida fan was a racist jackass, and that I'll probably remember him as an embarrassment about as long as I remember this game.
To that guy, and people who think they're being funny or scoring points by calling people with funny names "terrorists": Your racism in those moments is cruel, despicable, and unforgivable, and it reflects poorly on you and anyone you associate with. In general, the sooner people realize that understanding other humans is almost always infinitely more satisfying than hating them, the better off we'll all be.
To Bassim: You deserve better than that, and I wish you good luck and success. I'll be rooting for you.
That's what I saw. What'd you see? I'll be in the comments all day.